Leah Hart wants her business to evolve into something more than just a "plain Jane" retail store.

After buying 8th Street Boutique a year ago, she celebrated the grand opening Thursday of moving downtown.

"Tyler has put so much into downtown," she said. "It's great down here."

She said she enjoys the kind of atmosphere longtime businesses, such as Don Juan's Mexican Restaurant, Rick's on the Square and Jakes Tyler brings.

She also has a passion for the art community — that's why she decided to move the store to downtown, she said.

Ms. Hart plans to take a role in the downtown art community and become involved with Heart of Tyler. She said at the last Art Walk, the shop had no electricity so she hooked up a generator and fans and hosted two artists.

"I'm a big supporter of the local arts. I want it to be more than a boutique," she said, adding that she wants to have music and art events at least once a month in her shop to be more socially involved.

Ms. Hart, 31, bought the business from Elise Carter, who started 8th Street Boutique eight years ago in Bergfeld Center. After the business' lease with Bergfeld Center came up, Ms. Hart moved it into the space that formerly housed The Glass Onion on the downtown square.

She said being a small-business owner has been more difficult that she thought it would be, but the small business owners downtown are like a team.

"We support each other because without each other, we wouldn't be here," she said.

Ms. Hart is a graphic artist who has made jewelry and done graphic T-shirt design for about 10 years, she said, adding that she has always had an "entrepreneurial side thing going on."

She grew up in Tyler and graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in graphic design and marketing in 2005. She worked for a screen printing company in Louisiana for five years before moving back to Tyler. Here, she worked for two years in the marketing department at Brookshire's Grocery Co.

Ms. Hart said she and Ms. Carter graduated from graduated from Grace Community High School together and became close since she moved back. Ms. Hart sold some of her jewelry and shirts in Ms. Carter's boutique and went to holiday shows with her. When Ms. Carter began talking about selling her store, Ms. Hart said she always wanted to be a business owner and "access a more creative side of the community and share that with people."

8th Street Boutique carries clothes and accessories that have a West Coast, laid back, casual feel to them, she said. "I feel like it fits in really well with the community downtown," she added.

Ms. Hart said she loves all of the brands Ms. Carter carried in the store, which include organic cotton and vegan handbags and shoes. She carries premium organic lines, along with more affordable merchandise.

"I want people to be able to afford to enjoy it," she said.

Clothing brands include Pink Lotus, Green Dragon, Pixie Dust and Flying Tomato. Ms. Hart has added a few lines, including the vintage-inspired shoe brand Seychelles. She also sells her jewelry, wants to add a vintage boot shop in the fall and hopes to start offering tailoring services. She said her merchandise targets women in the 20s to 50s.

"I try to keep it where a 45-yar-old mom can come in with her 15-year-old daughter and they can both find something," she said.

Ms. Hart said during formal season, she will carry a couple of formal dresses, but mostly sells casual ware and work apparel. "I try to find stuff that's trendy that you can still wear to work and wear to dinner afterward," she said.

8th Street Boutique has a lot of loyal customers and because she and Ms. Carter have similar tastes and opinions, it has been a pretty smooth transition, she said.

"We're really close and she helps me a lot," she said. "I feel really blessed because a lot of people don't have that."

Sarah Stanley will manage the store and she has three employees. An office in the back of the shop allows Ms. Hart to do freelance graphic work.

The Glass Onion, which opened in the space on March 1, 2012, closed in early June, Ms. Hart said. She spent July cleaning and painting the store, which opened Aug. 1 and held its grand opening celebration on Thursday.

"I'm really excited to be here," she said. "Growing up in Tyler, I never thought I'd be where I'm at. I feel very lucky. I know it's because of the customers we have. They're very supportive and encouraging."

 

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